Functional diversity enhances tree growth and reduces herbivory damage in secondary broadleaf forests, but does not influence resilience to drought.
Since the mid-20th Century, Europe has experienced an unprecedented forest expansion associated with the abandonment of rural landscapes. Secondary forests may provide relevant ecosystem services such as landscape defragmentation, biodiversity conservation, control of hydrological cycling and carbon sequestration. Secondary forests may benefit from the legacies of the former agricultural land use, and exhibit enhanced growth. Moreover, they may differ from long-established forests in terms of tree species composition and diversity, as community composition has been less modified by succession or management. However, we lack evidence whether the effects of land use legacies on tree species diversity may also result in differences in the response of secondary forests to biotic and abiotic disturbances. We aimed to evaluate the effects of land use legacies on taxonomic and functional diversity and their effects on the response of temperate broadleaf forests to drought and herbivory damage. For this aim, we compared secondary beech Fagus sylvatica forests established after 1950 in abandoned pastures with long-established (pre-1950) forests. We calculated indices of taxonomic and functional diversity and determined mean growth and growth response of beech to two drought events (1991, 2006), and insect herbivory damage. Secondary and long-established beech forests marginally differed in species richness but the former exhibited a significantly higher Shannon diversity index and evenness. Yet, differences in taxonomic diversity did not result in differences in functional diversity between forest types. Mean tree growth was higher in secondary than in long-established forests and it increased with functional diversity in both forest types. However, diversity was unrelated with the growth response to drought. Insect herbivory damage decreased with increasing functional diversity but only in secondary forests. Synthesis and applications. Promoting functional diversity in temperate broadleaf forests is a promising strategy for enhancing productivity (tree growth) while increasing the ability to cope with biotic disturbances (insect herbivory). This principle should be applied both in the management of long-established as well as expanding secondary forests. Yet, functional diversity does not seem to ameliorate tree response to drought, highlighting the need for other silvicultural practices to address this environmental challenge.